Monday, November 28, 2016

Does the Bible Require a Flat Earth?

In a word: No.

The Bible makes a number of statements about the view of the earth as seen from our human, on-the-surface-of-the-earth perspective which can naively be misunderstood to imply the earth must be flat.  Yes, the Bible says the “sun moves” – but that IS what it looks like to us from the ground!  It does “look like” the sun moves and the earth does not!  Yes, the Bible does say the earth is immovable – but it is true that no human can move the earth!

Let’s look at a few scriptures and discuss the common errors in interpretation. And let me note, up front:  I am NOT going to cover every scripture that people misunderstand/misinterpret to conclude the earth is flat:

Here’s the “biggie” used by flat earthers all over the globe to argue the earth is flat:

Job 26:10-11 “He fixed a circle on the surface of the water, defining the boundary between light and dark.”

Flat earther: “That clearly means the earth is flat!”

Truth:  No, it means no matter where you stand, all around you is the “circle” of the horizon.  Our horizon defines the boundary between day and night.  Watch the sun set.  The sky gradually gets dark. If the earth were flat, the sky would get dark very quickly (not quite “suddenly”, but more rapidly), for everyone on earth at the same time.

Measure the time from sunset to dark in the summer and in the winter.  You’ll find darkness comes more slowly in the summer for a person in the Northern Hemisphere.  That is because the sun appears to pass over and set at a higher latitude so it takes longer to “sink” or “descend” lower below the horizon. At the same time of year, for a person in the Southern Hemisphere, darkness comes more quickly!  If the earth were flat, that would not happen! In the verse, "circle" (Hebrew: chug) means “the visible expanse as seen by a person standing on a high place”, i.e., the horizon. It does not require a flat earth!

Here’s something you can do to prove whether or not your understanding of the shape of the earth is wrong. Right at the time of sunset, from wherever you are, call someone very far to your West and ask them if the sun is setting.  For example, if you are in the Eastern time zone of the US, at the moment of sunset where you are, call someone in the Pacific time zone and ask them where the sun is in the sky! You’ll find they will say the sun is not setting at that same moment where they are, for they see the sun considerably higher in the sky, some time yet before it sets!

That tells you the earth is not flat! (If the earth were flat - no matter how far the sun is from the earth - then everyone, all over the earth would see the sun rise and set at the same time. (If the earth were flat, and the sun were simply close to the earth, then yes, throughout the daylight hours people would see the sun at varying altitudes in the sky, but no matter the sun’s distance from the earth, everyone, all over the world would see the same moment of sunset (or sunrise)!)  But you can prove to yourself that people all over the world see a different time of sunset! You possess the technology, and it’s easy to do!  Call somebody and ask!)

Genesis 1:6 “Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so…” (KJV)

Flat earther: “That means the earth is flat! Otherwise how can the firmament separate the waters?”

Truth:  No, it is prose attempting to move quickly from the formation of the earth to the next important topic – not meant to be scientifically accurate!  Is not the dry land a “firmament” which separates you from the vast oceans? Is not the “firmament” also the air above?  In the Hebrew “raqia” is used for both the vault/dome of the sky and the body of the earth/water below. No matter where you live, are not there “waters in the firmament” (i.e. rain) separated from the oceans?  (This is “waters divided from waters”). The “firmament” is the land, oceans, and the air above, and the land is the same no matter where anyone lives on the earth – round or flat.  This verse does not require or even suggest the earth must be flat!

Job 9:6 "He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble.”  (NIV)

(See also Job 26:11, Psalms 75:3, 1 Samuel 2:8).

Flat earther: “That means the earth is flat! It could only be flat on pillars!”

Truth:  No, Job is “prose and poetry”.  In prose and poetry, what is physical is converted to analogy, example, and idealized narration.  (Sorry, I don’t speak in the language of prose and poetry.)  In its simplest terms these verses are simply saying that the mass of the earth below you, unseen is “holding up the ground you are standing on”. It can be described as “pillars” holding up something like a ceiling because absolutely no one in ancient times knew or understood otherwise.

In no way do the verses mean the earth is actually held up by pillars, nor do they imply a flat earth!  If you were writing about the “feeling” of an earthquake wouldn’t you describe it today as if the ground were held up by pillars and that the pillars shook resulting in the ground motion? Admit it! You have absolutely no idea how earthquakes propagate destruction to the surface!

Job 37:3 “He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth.” (NIV)

Flat earther: “For the earth to have ‘ends’ it must be flat!”

Truth:  No, can we learn anything from the purpose of “prose and poetry”?  In the Hebrew, the word translated as “ends” is “chana’pah” and means “an edge or extremity” and in-context means “all” or “whole”! So the verse only means that nowhere on earth are people safe from the threat of lightning! It would be true that the polar regions would be relatively safe from lightning as there are fewer storms there, but the verse holds no bearing on the claim that the earth is flat!

And another favorite of the flat earther:  Isaiah 40:22 “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.  He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.” (NIV)

Flat earther: “It is quite clear that the above Biblical Verses suggest and claim that the Earth is flat, [and with other verses] has Edges, has Four Corners, has Pillars, and has Foundations.  No unbiased person would deny the straight forward quotes above.  Only the desperate biased Jews and Christians would. Some desperate Christians have gone as far as presenting Isaiah 40:22 to try to prove that the Bible claims that the earth is round.”

Truth:  No, this verse [and the others not presented] only mean that English simply does not convey the original meaning, the essence of the verses, expressed in the original Hebrew! In this case, again, the word in English translated as “circle” is “chug” and in-context only means that no matter how high a person stands on or above the earth, YHWH is above that!  People are described as grasshoppers to make it clear! It makes perfect sense that the earth, as clearly viewed from a high place, would be described by a human as a “circle” because even from the top of Mt. Everest, the horizon extends in the distance all around and is seen as a “circle”!

You can stretch out your arm and point and circumscribe a circle with you finger as you point all around you!  That in no way requires the earth to be flat or spherical! In fact, the word translated into English as “canopy” is actually “cha’dok” in Hebrew and  means “something crumbling, that is, fine (as a thin cloth): a curtain.”   I hear no flat earther or spherical earther claiming that the sky is crumbling!  No, in context, the verse is simply describing that the heavens encompass everything around us.  The verse does not require a flat or a round earth!

Also, described as a “canopy”, does not the sky extend over you as would a “canopy” so great that no matter where you live it extends above you? Just because heaven is described as a “canopy” does not imply it is over a flat earth!

And regarding the flat earther insisting the earth must be stationary:

I Chronicles 16:30: "He has fixed the earth firm, immovable".

Flat earther: “That clearly means the earth is not moving!”

Truth:  No, it means no human can move the earth.  The Hebrew word translated into English as “immovable” in the verse is “timot” which means “to waiver” or to “be cast out of course”.  If the earth is moving, no human can make it change, stop or “be cast out of course”.  If the earth is not moving, no human can make it move! The verse cannot be used to defend a non-moving earth for it means the same, whether the earth is moving or not!

Flat earther: “The sun rotates over the earth. The fact that the sun is the one that moves is mentioned 67 times. How many times does the Bible say the earth moves? Never!  Scripture says:

I Chronicles 16:30: ‘He has fixed the earth firm, immovable’.
Psalm 93:1: ‘Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm...’Psalm 96:10: ‘He has fixed the earth firm, immovable...’
Psalm 104:5: ‘Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it never can be shaken.’
Isaiah 45:18: ‘...who made the earth and fashioned it, and himself fixed it fast...’

Flat earther continues: But we continue to say no matter, we're keeping the spinning Greek ball.”

Truth: Misunderstanding in every verse! By the way, all 67 scriptures you claim say the sun “moves” and not the earth say no such thing!  Example: Genesis 15:12: “…and when the sun was going down…” Wow! That clearly means the sun is moving and the earth is not! (Hear my sarcasm?)

Actually, we even say that same thing today!  In the late afternoon, we say “sun is going down”.  That is, after all, what it looks like to us on the earth.  (By the way, if the earth were rotating and the sun not moving (which it is, but we didn’t know it) it would look the same and be described the same way!) Your 67 verses do not prove the sun goes around the earth!

1 Chronicles has already been addressed.  In Every Psalm please look at the context! 93:1: Adonai has established the earth, we puny humans cannot change it!  96:10: the verse again recognizes that humans are minor – they can’t do what Adonai has done.  104:5: begin at verse 1! The psalm is simply giving enormous glory to Adonai for His power!  Verse 5 is no more justification of an “immovable” earth as verse 3 really means literally “His palace is on the oceans”.  It’s poetry people!

Flat earthers are fond to laud their superiority over you!  They say things like Pretending you have never heard of a globe or even a flat earth before, let’s just allow the Bible to speak for itself. Read them over a couple of times, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to you what they mean. Without forcing an interpretation based on preconceived notions, meditate on them and ask yourself, ‘What is the Bible really showing me concerning the nature of the heavens, the earth, the sun, moon and stars?’ 

Sure!  Read your English-only Bible and apply your English-only understanding and interpretation of words like “circle”, “dome”, “pillar”, “firmament”, “foundation”, “stretched out”, etc. and and you’ll fall for the conclusion that the Bible speaks of and requires a flat earth! Ignore the context, and ignore the original Hebrew to stay locked in the 3rd Century BCE! (Yes, mankind has known the earth was a sphere since Eratosthenes who lived circa 276-194 BCE!)

Knowing that virtually no one in ancient times understood the earth was round, can you at least realize that when scripture was written (most of which was written before that era) it would describe things in terms that humans of the era perceived?  Can you imagine if scripture used actual descriptions of the physical reality of the spherical, rotating earth, orbiting the sun, with the moon in orbit around the earth and a “speed of light” and vast distances to the sun, moon, planets and stars?! All of scripture would have been dismissed as blasphemous! No scripture would have been canonized!

We are actually quite blessed, today, that scripture was written at the time it was! It was truth then (for it did not say one way or the other that the earth was round or flat), and it’s completely valid today, even though today we know the truth! Amazing!

I’ve only scratched the surface of the many scriptures misused by the flat earthers to substantiate their claims.  But there is a truth in physics: A single counterexample disproves a theory.  I’ve countered several scriptures cited by flat earthers to defend their belief.  I’ve shown that not only do the scriptures not defend a flat earth, but they also don’t deny reality – that the earth is round, rotating, and in orbit around the sun!



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    1. Not sure I follow you, "Grateful". When I ended my article with "It didn't matter then and it doesn't matter now" I was talking about the flat vs. round earth argument. I'm not changing scripture or adding to scripture.

      Fact is, the earth is a rotating sphere, in orbit around the sun. We know that. We can still accept and believe scripture knowing that truth which was unknown in ancient times. My argument in no way agrees with or condones anti-Torah teachings of, as you said: "Homosexuality / Torah / Shabbat / Tzitzit / Creation / what we eat 'doesn't matter'"! All those matter, of course! But many have misread the scriptures only to conclude that the earth must be flat. And since they accept that scripture is "inerrant", they feel they must accept that the true nature of the earth must be false. All I was trying to say is that the true nature of the earth (round, rotating, in orbit around the sun) is perfectly in accordance with scripture! Scripture IS inerrant! It's our translations and interpretations which are erred!

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    3. Well, "Grateful" dropped out of the discussion! Too bad. But since "Grateful" is anonymous, Here is my response to his/her deleted comment above:

      Thanks, "Grateful",

      I am compelled to respond. I agree with your first paragraph to great extent. TRUE seekers are digging into the WORD and are beginning to have the scales removed from their eyes. After that, you descended into speculation. Permit me to attempt a "course correction" though you are certainly free to believe what you want.

      You said: "Do you know that this discussion regarding the Heliocentric and Geocentric model has been debated for hundreds of years?"

      Reply: Absolutely yes, I knew that! But it a has been less of a "debate" that it has been an "argument". Before roughly the 3rd Century BCE, pretty much everyone assumed the model of the earth-sun system was geocentric. That is what it looks like. But from that time, more and more people began to see the clues that revealed the fact that the correct model of the earth-sun system is heliocentric. It is no longer a debate or an argument. It is fact. Again, my point of the article is that according to scripture, heliocentric or geocentric does not matter! Scripture is perfectly sound within the heliocentric model of the sun-earth system we know is a physical reality. My big "beef", if you will, with "flat earthers" is that it is only because they THINK scripture declares the earth is flat and the sun goes around the earth, they refuse to see the real world around them.

      You said: "Today, many scientists admit that their heliocentric model doesn't fit. They need to keep on adding "dark matter" to the universe to make their equations fit. Something is not right."

      Reply: You are somewhat correct, but mixing apples and oranges. You are confusing, I think, cosmology with the more local "solar system physics". Within our solar system, the heliocentric model is quite correct and accurate! There are very small perturbations but the equations, to several orders of magnitude, are quite accurate in describing the motion of the earth, moon, sun, and all the planets. Observed errors are due to many factors of which I'm not going to go into detail. But in the "grander scale" of the universe, things get even more complicated. "Dark matter" was proposed to explain the THEORY of the expansion of the universe. Yes, that theory is not perfect, has problems and scientists are doing, as they do, looking at the theory to find the problems. In my estimation, the difficulty scientist are having "explaining" the universe is not unexpected. After all, they are attempting to describe something created by a far superior entity! (Please realize, science only "describes". They can describe, mathematically all they want and it works fine as a predictive model, but it does not and will never replace YHWH any more than you can "describe" an apple. YHWH created it, you didn't.

      You said: "[Scientists] are willing to admit they are wrong! [Scientists] are willing to admit that they need to start looking at the Geocentric model since their theories..... Yes, THEORIES [don't] add up"

      Reply: Of course scientists are willing to admit they are wrong! All good scientists test a theory and if the theory fails, they try anew! But no, they do not need to look at the geocentric model "since their theories don't add up"! Again, you are mixing apples and oranges.

      [Concluded, next post]

    4. [Conclusion]

      You said: "I can either believe theories, or the written Word of יהוה."

      Reply: If only it were that simple! Do you know the original, ancient language or have you drawn all your conclusions from English versions of YHWH's Word? But one more time: There is nothing wrong with scientific theories of the physical world. Absolutely none of those theories can ever contradict the Word! What we see of the physical world simply MUST jive with the Word! Some can make mistakes in their interpretation of what science says, or in what scripture says, but that does not make one right and the other wrong.

      You said: "I know the sun moves, water doesn't curve and their ratio (8 inches per mile) regarding the curvature of the earth has been shown to be wrong MANY times."

      Reply: Believe what you will, but you are very, very, sadly wrong. But I can see that any attempt at explaining anything to you would most likely be pointless. The sun does move, but in the solar system, (disregarding the motion of the sun in the galaxy), the earth is moving around the sun. This is simply fact (and does not defy scripture)! Regarding your dismissal of spherical earth because of the "problem" of not being able to "perceive" the curvature, well, it only means you are not willing to study the issue to understand why curvature is so difficult to detect and "see". If you were to dismiss all the quackery you find on the Internet about "200 Proofs the Earth is Flat" instead of dismissing actual facts, you'd be surprised at what you could learn.

      You said: "I think we have to be careful of claiming we know things as facts without proof, when we actually don't know a thing! Even the scientists admit that."

      Reply: Fact: The sun will rise tomorrow. I can't prove it to you. Therefore I guess you don't believe the sun will rise tomorrow. Corollary to your statement: "I think we need to be careful what we accept as "truth" (or "fact") and what we deny when that assessment is based on our own bias' and limitations." It's been a pleasure discussing this with you!